Artists Sue A.I. Generated Art Claiming it Violated Copyright Laws of Artwork

By Ricardo He, 12th Grade

Artists Sarah Andersen, Kelly McKernan, and Karla Ortiz have filed a class-action lawsuit against the companies behind the programming of AI-generated art software, Midjourney, Stable Diffusion, and Deviant Art, for copying and processing billions of copyrighted images without obtaining the consent of or compensating the artists the images were taken from. They claim that these companies benefit commercially from the use of these copyrighted images. Although a specific amount has not yet been specified, according to a statement by Matthew Butterwick, a litigator on the lawsuit, “even assuming nominal damages of $1 per image, the value of this misappropriation would be roughly $5 billion.” 

The way these machines store and “learn” from these images relies on a mathematical process called “diffusion,” which stores compressed copies of the images that are in turn recombined to create new images. Although the images may or may not resemble the artwork of artists, the plaintiffs claim that they are derived from copies of copyrighted images and are later put into the market, essentially creating an infinite amount of infringing images that negatively affect artists. However, there seem to be technical inaccuracies in the lawsuit. For example, University of Sussex reader of intellectual property law Dr. Andrés Guadamuz explained that these trained tools do not have copies of the images the AI trained on, and what happens is the creation of clusters representing things, namely latent space.

The plaintiffs have asked the court to stop these companies from using artists’ works without permission. Their goal in this lawsuit is to take “another step toward making AI fair and ethical for everyone,” not to entirely eliminate these tools.

Although many artists support the lawsuit, fearing that these AI tools would cheapen their work, it would still be hard to determine whether these AI art tools violate copyright law, seeing that it may be protected under the fair use doctrine. 

Additionally, the plaintiff allege that the AI tool permits users to create works in the style of a given artist, directly harming the artist seeing as to how people would opt to using the AI tool rather than commissioning the artist. However, style has proven to be essentially impossible to protect with copyright since it is an idea and a technique, and such things are not protected by copyright.

The defendants are most likely to claim fair use of the images used to build their databases since it is such an ill-defined situation that is not directly stated in copyright laws.

Regardless of whether the plaintiff wins or lose the lawsuit, the decision will have a significant impact on the future of AI-generated content. The legal decision may set precedent on how AI-generated works are treated under copyright law and how they may be used in the market.

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